Your Weight in Gold.jpgOn September 17, 2010, jetBlue named Joanna Geraghty as its first Chief People Officer (CPO).  There is some speculation that the timing of the Steven Slater incident may have helped fuel this decision.  But still, jetBlue has taken the leap and appears to be at the forefront of companies appointing CPOs, which are anything but the norm.  

Today, human resource professionals can play a crucial role in the success or failure of business.  One need look no further than the increasing number of ‘pattern and practice’ class action lawsuits challenging subjective decision-making (e.g., hiring, firing, and promotion) to see that not having an organized, strategic and uniform HR function can have expensive (and disastrous) consequences. 

EXAMPLE: Major national company is named in a nationwide class action lawsuit for ‘pattern and practice’ discrimination against minorities.  Basis of claims is that the company has no formal practices or policies for promotion, all decisions are made locally by the individual managers.  In fact, major national company has no central HR function, and no top-level decisionmaker driving policy and procedures across all locations.  What does that mean?  It means that the major national company’s reputation and litigation exposure is left in the hands of individual managers or regional folks with varying levels of education, training and experience, and unfortunately, possible discriminatory motives.

Not only are these massive cases being pursued by private classes of plaintiffs, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has made ‘pattern and practice’ cases an enforcement priority.  But, beyond exposure to ‘pattern and practice’ class action litigation, there are two other important reasons why companies should seriously consider a CPO:

  1. Compliance with evolving employment laws and regulations
  2. Hiring and retaining top talent

Jim Collins, the author of “Good to Great,” has said that people can be a company’s greatest asset and make the difference between good and great companies.  However, he is careful to clarify that this concept only applies to the right people.  Arguably, companies should consider following jetBlue’s concept of getting the right people in place, from the top, down.  Seems to me this move would be worth its weight in gold.